What is Lent about? My one-word answer is JESUS. Here are eleven questions and answers that seek to draw out the meaning of this great upcoming Church season.
1. What is Lent? A way to adopt practices and attitudes that realize the suffering and death of Christ.
2. Why Suffering and Death? The suffering and death of Jesus is the focal point of God’s activity in the earth. Nearly half of the Gospel of Mark and large percentages of the other Gospels are reporting Jesus’ suffering and death. Churches everywhere must do a better job of keeping that focus.
3. What do we do? We fast/pray for 40 of the next 46 days (starting March 6th). Sundays are always a break day. Christians have always thought that Sunday is a unique day (cause of the resurrection) even during the Lent season. Therefore, whatever you are fasting (and you get to decide) you can feel free to not fast on Sundays.
4. Why Ashes? There is no direct Biblical command for or against getting ashes placed on our heads. However, I have found Ash Wednesday weaved together a wide array of biblical themes all at once. The phrase, “from dust we came and to dust we shall return,” reminds us of the double reality that God used the natural earth to develop his human creatures, and one day their bodies shall go back into the earth. Moreover, especially in the Old Testament, we see the nation of Israel and other nations repent in “sackcloth and ashes.”
5. What else are we doing? Well, the sanctuary is going to look pretty stark. All of the Christmas lights and backdrop are coming down for this season. In a sense, as we take on the attitude of fasting, prayer, suffering, and death, our environment is going to reflect that nakedness. At least partially. Moreover, we have some special songs that are going to be functioning also as prayers through the Lent Season.
6. Isn’t all of this kind of grim? Are we not supposed to celebrate? Well, yes, sort of. However, there are so many Scriptural themes that remind us that God is still present through the suffering and sorrowful. People need this season! I find that plenty of Christians find this season an exercise in renewal. A broadening of their awareness that Sunday morning is not only supposed to be honored with a smile, but with one’s brokenness and suffering too.
7. Is Lent Catholic? Lent predates the solidification of any one denomination. Thus, it is not expressly a Catholic or Orthodox or Lutheran activity. It is a universal way for Christians everywhere to focus on the most central person of the faith, Jesus.
8. What else can this season offer me? Well, in a sense this is the wrong question. JFK would flip the question. However, perhaps broadly speaking I can offer an answer. 1) It can balance out all of the misdirected emphasis in the body of Christ on “pet” doctrines and teachings. There is no other Gospel but one that includes the suffering and death of Jesus. 2) It can remind us that God is near to the sufferer. 3) It challenges our way of having power. Christ gives his life instead of taking others. This is a most powerful demonstration of God’s activity.
9. Are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday Holy Days of Obligation? In the ‘non-catholic world’ we do not typically have Holy Days of Obligation. However, I do personally hope that you come with a spirit to embrace physically what our faith brings about spiritually on these days.
10. Where do the Ashes come from? On Palm Sunday each year (the week before Easter) we wave palms and sing Hosanna. Then, we dry the palms, burn them, and use the ashes for Ash Wednesday the next year. There is a cyclical and renewal process to all things that we participate in when we get ashes on our foreheads.
11. What is the most funny story pastor Isaac has from Ash Wednesday? Come March 6th to find out. 😊 Or…I suppose you could listen online later too. Truly, Wednesday I will be sharing some, but we also have a special guest joining to help lead this service. Candace (who many of you remember has led worship before in the past), has a wonderful gift for teaching and leading and she will join me in leading this great service of Ashes.